Siem Reap

Siem Reap is your base for visiting the nearby temples of Angkor – one of the wonders of the world. 

Siem Reap is the centre for people visiting the nearby temples of Angkor, as well as the international and domestic air gateway to the temple complex. The town thrives not because of its attractions or rather bucolic nightlife, but because of its role as a base for visiting Angkor.

Siem Reap is still not a big or terribly busy place, but is expanding fast, with many comfortable and reasonably priced smaller hotels and guest houses. It’s a relaxing and welcoming town, pleasantly shaded in the vicinity of the river, still unaffected by heavy traffic and with a very friendly population, many of whom speak English. It is also a good place to eat, with a whole range of restaurants and cafés serving all kinds of cuisines – Asian, European and international.

The temples at Angkor are one of the wonders of the world. Perhaps nowhere else on earth, unless it be the Valley of the Nile in Egypt, are the relics of antiquity found on so monumental a scale. In colonial times, when the French first opened Angkor to tourism, it was usual to distinguish between the ‘Small Circuit’ comprising the central temples of the complex, and the ‘Great Circuit’, taking in the outer temples. Today, when air-conditioned taxis have replaced elephants and horses as the most popular means of transportation around Angkor, it still makes a great deal of sense to follow – at least approximately – these designated routes.

 

When to go

Siem Reap can be very hot between late February and early May. September sees a lot of rain, but really the Angkor area is fine for visits all year-round.

Visa requirements

Singaporeans and citizens of most other ASEAN member states can visit Laos for 30 days without a visa. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket. Visitors from most other countries can get a 30-day visa on arrival at Siem Reap International Airport for US$20. It is also possible to apply online for an e-visa for US$25.

Money

Cambodian riel, although most transactions above 5000 riel are made in US dollars. Credit cards have become widely accepted and most good hotels, restaurants and boutiques will accept Visa, JCB, MasterCard and sometimes Amex. Cash advances on cards are possible in some banks in Siem Reap. ATMs are widely available in Siem Reap.

Transport

Siem Reap International Airport is 8km (5 miles) from town. The journey by taxi costs US$7 and will take 15-20 minutes to the downtown area. Motos are also available and cost US2. Most hotels, as well as some of the better guesthouses, provide airport transfers for guests who have confirmed reservations.

Health and safety tips

Siem Reap is on the whole a safe town, but basic precautions should be taken to avoid falling victim to pickpockets sometimes found in the markets and tourist areas. Use a money belt, lock valuables in your hotel safe, and don't flaunt electronics and jewellery. Beware of strangers offering free drinks in bars. Druggings and robberies have been reported. Be particularly careful of water and ice; only consume water that comes from carefully sealed containers or has been boiled thoroughly. Heat exhaustion and prickly heat can result from dehydration and salt deficiency, so drink lots of fluids, avoid intense activity when the sun is strongest, and rest frequently during the day. Travellers' diarrhoea is quite common, though usually not serious; be sure to avoid dehydration problems by replacing the fluids your body will lose.

Emergency details

Singapore Embassy:

The nearest Singapore Embassy is in Phnom Penh (129 Norodom Boulevard, tel: (855) 23 221875, www.mfa.gov.sg/phnompenh)


Police:

The tourist police are at Mondul 3 Village, Sangkat Slorkram (tel: (855) 63 760215).

Basic greetings
English Khmer
Hello Jumreap sooa
How are you? Tau neak sok sapbaiy jea the?
Fine, thanks K'nyom sok sapbaiy
Goodbye Leah suhn heuy
Please Sohm mehta
Excuse-me Sohm dtoh
Thank you Orgoon
Yes Baat
No Dteh
What's your name? Lok tch muoh ey?
My name is… K'nyom tch muoh…
Where are you from? Niak mao pi patet nah?
I come from… K'nyom mao pi…
Where is…? Noev eah nah…?
Bus station Kuhnlaing laan ch'noul
Hotel Sohnthakia
Market P'sah
Restaurant Haang bai
Toilet Bawngkohn
How much is…? T'lay phonmaan

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Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was built for King Suryavarman II (ruled 1113–50) in the early 12th century as his state temple. As the best-preserved temple at the Angkor site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation, first Hindu and then Buddhist. It is the world's largest religious building and has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag. The temple combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture. It is designed to represent Mount Meru in Hindu mythology.

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women) is a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is located to the north-east of the main group of temples at Angkor. This miniature temple complex is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still visible today. It is in the quality of the stone and the soft, almost mellifluous charm of the colour, that much of the secret of the temple’s appeal lies. Banteay Srei is of rectangular design, enclosed by three walls and the remains of a moat.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan (Temple of the Sacred Sword) was built in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII in the style of the Bayon and dedicated to the Buddhist religion. The temple served as a monastery and university. It was the centre of a substantial society, with almost 100,000 officials and servants. An inscribed stone stele, found at Preah Khan in 1939 indicates that the temple was once the heart of the ancient city of Nagarajayacri. The central sanctuary is cruciform, with four entranceways. Look for the ‘Hall of Dancers’, named for the carved rows of apsara which decorate the walls.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm (Ancestor of Brahma) was built in the Bayon style in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. It was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. In its prime the temple owned 3,140 villages and was maintained by 79,365 people including 18 high priests, 2,740 officials, 2,202 assistants and 615 dancers. What makes Ta Prohm so special is that, following an unusual archaeological decision, the jungle has only partly been cut back, leaving the buildings covered with the roots of huge banyan and kapok trees which rise high above the temple.

The Bayon

The Bayon, at the centre of Angkor Thom (Great City), was established in the 12th century by the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. It is thought to represent a symbolic temple-mountain and rises on three levels, the first of which bears eight cruciform gateways. These are linked by galleries containing some of the most remarkable bas-reliefs at Angkor; they combine numerous domestic and everyday scenes with historical details of battles fought by the Khmers. The domestic scenes show such things as fishermen, market scenes, festivals, cockfights, giving birth and playing chess. There are also everyday scenes from the royal palace.

The Roluos Complex

The Roluos Complex includes some of the earliest monuments of the Angkor era. Within the group three important complexes can be found. To the north of National Highway 4 stand the towers of Lolei, whilst to the south are the larger temples of Preah Ko and Bakong. Founded by King Yasovarman I (889–908), Lolei is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. Preah Ko was built by King Indravarman I (877–89) and the Bakong, the most impressive of the three sites is a late 9th-century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.

Shop

Angkor Night Market

Sivatha Street, near the Old Market

The Angkor Night Market was the first market of its type to open in Cambodia, although night markets have long been popular attractions in neighbouring countries. The market gets into full swing around 4pm and continues until midnight. With more than 200 stalls and vendors to browse there’s a lot to see although be prepared for plenty of repetition. Items of interest include paintings, cotton clothing, lacquerware, ceramics, stone carving (although you might think twice about purchasing as they can be very heavy) and a host of other Khmer handicrafts.

Budget $

Artisans d'Angkor

Stung Thmey Street

Artisans d’Angkor is probably the best presented and highest quality outlet for traditional Cambodian wares in Siem Reap. It’s also possible to visit small workshops on the premises and see local artisans at work weaving, carving and painting. Prices are fixed, and it’s not the cheapest place in town, but quality is uniformly high, and the selection available is both wide and in good taste. Look for stone carvings, metal work, framed pictures, a plethora of clothing of all types, woodblock prints and distinctive Khmer kramaa scarves.

Budget $$$

Diwo Gallery

Wat Svay, Tonle Sap Road

The Diwo Gallery is a treasure trove of wooden, bronze and stone Buddha statues, Khmer sculptures and art photography. If you are looking for a specific Buddha pose or mudra, Diwo will almost certainly have it. The photography exhibits are of the highest quality using first class printing techniques. A second Diwo Gallery between Monument Books and the Ta Prohm Hotel on Pokambor Avenue contains similar sculptures and might be more convenient than the main gallery for many visitors.

Budget $$$

Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts Centre

Charles de Gaulle Avenue (Temple Road)

The Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts Centre prides itself on keeping the art and production of traditional Khmer pottery and ceramics alive. They offer classes in pottery making and it’s a lot of fun producing your own coffee mug on a potter’s wheel. Many of the items for sale are both functional as well as decorative. If you’re not interested in making your own pots then you can take a guided tour and watch each step of the production process.

Budget $$

Monument Books

Ta Prohm Hotel, Pokambor Avenue

Monument Books is the finest bookshop in Cambodia and one of the best in the region for books on all aspects of society, culture, history and politics not just in Cambodia, but in Indochina as a whole. There is a downtown branch in Siem Reap at the Ta Prohm Hotel, and the same firm also runs an excellent and very comprehensive bookshop in the departure lounge at Siem Reap airport, to the far right of the coffee shop and restaurant.

Budget $$

Old Market

Ta Prohm Hotel, Pokambor Avenue

Monument Books is the finest bookshop in Cambodia and one of the best in the region for books on all aspects of society, culture, history and politics not just in Cambodia, but in Indochina as a whole. There is a downtown branch in Siem Reap at the Ta Prohm Hotel, and the same firm also runs an excellent and very comprehensive bookshop in the departure lounge at Siem Reap airport, to the far right of the coffee shop and restaurant.

Budget $$

Dine

Abacus Garden Restaurant

National Highway 6 to the airport

Occupying a traditional two-storey Cambodian house, the Abacus Garden Restaurant serves a selection of fine international cuisine with a good wine selection. Recommended dishes include appetizers such as beef carpaccio topped with Parmesan shavings, pan-fried duck liver or how about a main course of grilled pork tenderloin with plum jelly and baby potatoes. The dessert selection is equally appealing. Indoor, garden and balcony seating is available.

Budget $$$

FCC Angkor

Pokambor Street, next to the Royal Residence

The younger sister of the more famous Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh, the FCC Angkor is situated close to the Siem Reap River in the midst of some beautiful old rain trees. In a refined atmosphere, choose from an extensive menu of international and local dishes, and a full bar. Here you’ll find some of the finest food available in the town including wonderfully crisp spring rolls, beef lok lak, grilled grass-fed sirloin steak, and chocolate truffle cake.

Budget $$

Haven

Sok San Street

The Haven, run by a Swiss couple is one of Siem Reap’s most popular restaurants. It’s a training restaurant set up to help  Khmer teenagers find a future. They serve a mix of International and Khmer dishes including an excellent Chicken Morning Glory Soup, salt and pepper calamari and believe it or not a superb Oreo cheesecake. The staff is very friendly and helpful.

Budget $

The Red Piano

50 metres/yards northwest of the Old Market, on the corner of Pub Street

One of Siem Reap’s most enduring and popular restaurants, The Red Piano offers a variety of steaks and pastas as well as a fine wine list and a number of cocktails. The upstairs balcony is a great place to sit and watch the action down on Pub Street. Try one of their ‘Tomb Raider’ cocktails, supposedly first consumed by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie on location a few years ago. It also serves good breakfasts.

Budget $

The Square 24

Street 24, Achasvar

The Square 24 offers a modern Khmer dining experience of the highest order. For a starter why not try the mango salad and pork belly, which is tangy and slightly spicy. The grilled beef with lime and coriander makes a great main course and the beef is so tender. The decor mixes an interesting water feature down one side of the open restaurant and metal palm trees wrapped in kramaa, the famous Cambodian scarf used by farmers.

Budget $$$

Viroth's

246, Wat Bo Road

Viroth’s is the stylish setting for some distinctively modern Cambodian cooking. Chef Viroth has created some masterpieces including an excellent chicken amok and is usually around to elucidate on the subtleties of his fine Khmer cuisine. Try the Khmer sour soup along with their minced pork laab. Desserts include a variety of Cambodian favourites, plus cakes and ice cream. Viroth’s can be busy so it might be best to make a reservation if possible.

Budget $$

Stay

Angkor Village Hotel

Wat Bo Road

The Angkor Village Hotel is a quiet and secluded hotel on the east side of the Siem Reap River. Accommodation consists of traditional Khmer-style bungalows with beautifully appointed rooms, surrounded by lotus-filled pools and finely manicured gardens. Facilities include an attractive outdoor pool, business centre and a particularly helpful tour desk. The hotel also offers guests the chance to become elephant handlers for a few days at the Angkor Mahout Academy.Wat Bo Road

Budget $$

Bopha Angkor

512, Acharsvar Road

The Bopha Angkor is first class value considering the number of excellent facilities on site and the high quality of the service. It’s set in beautiful lush tropical gardens with attractive bungalows dotted around overlooking the Siem Reap River. The main building is a beautifully restored French colonial structure. Other facilities include a striking swimming pool and a popular restaurant serving Cambodian and International cuisine.

Budget $$

Earthwalkers

Sala Kanseng Village, just off National Route 6

Originally set up by a group of young Norwegians, Earthwalkers strives to give something back to the neighbourhood by re-investing part of their profits in local community projects. With just 20 rooms, a mix of air-conditioning and fans, and in a secluded countryside environment, the onus is on relaxation and calm. Their pool is most welcome after a hot day walking around the monuments. They offer a whole host of tours around the area including visits to NGOs helping out local orphans and victims of landmines.

Budget $

Grand Soluxe Angkor Palace

555, Khum Svay Dang Khum

The Grand Soluxe Angkor Palace is a five-star, Cambodian owned, luxury hotel with a range of stylish rooms. The resort offers all the conveniences of a top flight hotel including a large spa, steam room and sauna, fitness centre, outdoor Jacuzzi and tennis courts. The excellent Soriya restaurant serves a delightful mix of Cambodian and International dishes in a traditional Khmer setting. Nightly cultural shows are held in a specially designed pavilion.

Budget $$$

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor

1, Vithei Charles de Gaulle

The Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, the oldest and most graceful hotel in Siem Reap, is the Raffles Group’s flagship hotel in Cambodia. The building is a French colonial work of art and sits in the centre of Siem Reap opposite King Sihanouk’s villa. Since its complete restoration a few years ago it has consistently won awards from all over the world. With a wide range of restaurants and bars, a large swimming pool, dinner theatre and spa, plus all the comforts of a luxury hotel, the Hotel d’Angkor can rightly claim to be one of Southeast Asia’s grandest hotels.    

Budget $$$

Shadow of Angkor 1

353, Pokambor Avenue

Housed in an old French colonial building in the Psar Chas area, the Shadow of Angkor Ioverlooks the Siem Reap River and offers great value. It’s been a popular choice for many years. Rooms vary in size and are a mix of air-conditioning and fans, but all contain satellite TV. The restaurant serves an excellent mix of Khmer and International dishes.    

Budget $

Angkor Wat International Half Marathon

First Sunday of December

An annual race around the monuments of Angkor starting and finishing in front of mighty Angkor Wat. Proceeds go to landmine charities.


Bon Om Tuk

Lunar November

This water festival celebrates the beginning of the cool, dry season and marks the current in the Tonlé Sap River reversing and emptying back into the Mekong River. Boat races are held on the great Tonlé Sap lake.


Bon Prachum Ben

Lunar September/October

This lasts for fifteen days and culminates at full moon in Bon Prachum Ben which is the Cambodian equivalent of All Soul's Day, ancestors are remembered and respects are paid through offerings at temples throughout the country.


Chaul Chnam

14 April - 16 April

Cambodian New Year is a time for families to get together. Houses are thoroughly cleaned and offerings are made in the temples. Water throwing at all and sundry occurs along the Siem Reap River and in the old town area.


Independence Day

9 November

Celebrates the country’s independence from France in 1953 with school marching bands and banners highlighting Cambodia's national achievements.


Vesak Buchea

Lunar May

Commemorates the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana. Candlelit processions take place at Angkor Wat and the Bayon with devout Buddhists circumambulating the main temple building in a clockwise direction.





Culture

Angkor provides limitless opportunities for cultural excursions, but to pick just one that offers a variety of architectural interests jump in a motorcycle taxi and head for Angkor Thom, which lies just to the north of Angkok Wat. Walk along the causeway that leads to the South Gate, flanked by 108 large stone figures: 54 gods on the left and an equivalent number of demons on the right. Meet your taxi on the other side of the gate and head to the centre of Angkor Thom, the magnificent Bayon. Tell your taxi to meet you at the Leper King Terrace in a couple of hours.

Entering the Bayon via the eastern entrance, slowly work your way around the magnificent bas-reliefs adorning the east and south galleries and then enter the inner sanctum and climb up to the central shrine and gaze in awe at the mysterious stone faces with their sublime smiles. Exit at the north side and walk 200 metres/yards to the Elephant Terrace. This structure is over 300 metres (984ft) long, and stretches from the Baphuon to the nearby Leper King Terrace.

Halfway along the terrace head west and enter the old royal palace area which holds at its centre Phimeanakas, the ‘aerial palace’. It’s worth climbing to the upper terrace to obtain an excellent view of the nearby Baphuon. After a gentle stroll through the palace grounds exit to the northeast and in front of you’ll see the Leper King Terrace.

Places to visit:
Angkor Thom

Foodie

In recent years sleepy Siem Reap has been transformed by the boom in visitors to Angkor, and one positive spin-off from this has been an explosion in the number of eateries offering a wide range of different cuisines, mostly of excellent standard.

A great place for a traditional western breakfast is the Central Café at the junction of Street 11 and Street 9 in the heart of the busy downtown area. Substantial fry-ups featuring sausage, bacon, grilled tomato, baked beans and eggs of your choice should set you up for a long day of temple exploration, though the delicious house speciality of scrambled eggs with Parmesan and pesto is better for the waistline. Alternatively several simple noodle stalls behind the Art Night Market offer tasty bowls of fresh Vietnamese pho or Cambodian kuthiew accompanied by a selection of fresh fruit smoothies.

For lunch check out Viroth’s at 246, Wat Bo Road. This cool, airy and stylish restaurant serves a wide selection of delicious and freshly cooked Cambodian cuisine including shredded mango salad with ground peanuts, spicy fish amoc and pork with ginger. Finish off with mango sticky rice and coconut cream accompanied by an Americano or Espresso coffee – the staff are charming and helpful.

Dinner time couldn’t be easier. Head straight out to Pub Street near the Old Market or Psar Chas. The entire street is lined with a fantastic choice of restaurants and boutique bars serving everything from French, Italian and even Mexican cuisine to local Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese specialities, all in a very charming setting at most reasonable prices.

Places to visit:
Central Café, Viroth’s, Pub Street.

Shopaholic

There’s no escaping the fact that Siem Reap is a tourist town – how could it not be given the proximity of Angkor. This does at least mean, though, that there is a plethora of shopping opportunities offering everything from silk kramaa scarves and Cambodia-themed t-shirts to upmarket Buddha images, quality stone-carvings, apsara paper rubbings and even Khmer Rouge currency notes. Monument Books at the airport and at the National Museum is an excellent source of high quality information not just on Cambodia, but on Indochina as a whole.

At the lower cost end of the spectrum, the Night Market on Khum Savay Dangkum, south of the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, offers a wide range of souvenirs – some tasteful, some less so – as well as cold drinks, foot massage and lots of atmosphere. Similarly the Psar Chas or Old Market near downtown Pub Street is packed with stalls offering everything from wood carvings and metal work through t-shirts and scarves to old stamps and bank notes. It’s also a fresh food market and very atmospheric.

At the other end of the spectrum, Artisans d’Angkor on Stung Thmey Street in the downtown area sells beautifully-made high-end stone, wood and metal carvings, a wide array of silk and cotton garments, traditional paintings, Buddha images and lacquerware. Prices are fixed but fair, quality is guaranteed, and shipping can easily be arranged. What’s more, visitors can watch the skilled craftsmen and women who manufacture these gems in a series of workshops scattered around the cool and green central courtyard.

Places to visit:
Monument Books, Night Market, Old Market, Artisans d’Angkor.